Behind the Scenes

It Takes a City

Why a truly memorable event requires more than a destination’s hotel and convention-center space.

While I was in Fort Worth in late November to experience how Freeman stages its own Global Sales Meeting, I also made it a point to pick some brains. What trends, I asked several Freeman leaders, are you seeing in the meetings industry?

I was intrigued by one thing Freeman President and COO Bob Priest-Heck said about the younger generation of attendees. “I’m a big believer that when they come to San Francisco to attend an event, they are not going to be satisfied being in the basement of the Moscone Center for three days,” he told me. “They are going to look at the backdrop of the whole city. Even though their time is compressed, people today have different objectives when they attend events.”

And if that’s true, Bob continued, how do organizers “lean into making that part of the content?” He gave an example of a Freeman client in New York whose venue-bound shows are completely sold out. “We are like, hello, we have this whole backdrop called Manhattan,” he said. “How about maybe having a popup over in the Meatpacking District? Maybe it’s not a traditional booth, but content mixed with a social engagement that has some sort of an exhibit. But it just pops up for a night, and then it goes away. I think we are going to see more and more of those type of things.”

Planners are accustomed to thinking about how to use special-event venues for receptions and gala dinners to open up a city — beyond the host hotels and convention center — to attendees. But Bob was talking about giving exhibitors and sponsors a larger event canvas, which in turn creates more chances for attendees to experience a destination, thereby increasing the likelihood that the experience will stick with them.

As I finished my write-up of my site visit to Ireland for this issue — where I set foot in many one-of-a-kind buildings and saw incredibly lovely places — I was reminded yet again of the mark that distinctive venues and places leaves on your memory. As FreemanXP President Dan Hoffend told me in Fort Worth, it’s when the elements of “surprise and delight” are part of our overall experience at an event that we make an emotional connection to its content.

Not only does it behoove meeting organizers to provide opportunities for their group to see more of their conference or convention destination, but capitalizing on those special places and spaces that can host groups — and popup events — benefits cities. When I spoke to Max Young, director of global communications and marketing for 100 Resilient Cities — which helps cities withstand the shocks and stresses of the coming century — it was good to hear that the meetings industry is on his organization’s radar. 100 Resilient Cities, he said, is about helping cities not just bounce back after a disaster, but also foster their economic resilience. And absolutely, Young said, meetings and conventions have an important role to play in that.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.